Hand crafted: How skipping the computer can give you a visualisation creativity jolt

For this first assignment I wanted to take a very handmade approach to data visualisation. Giorgia Lupi is a creator of immersive, static visualisations, and has also recently completed a fifty-two week project called Dear Data with Stephanie Posavec. Lupi writes in her essay “The new aesthetic of Data narrative” about the immersive possibilities of print. She asserts that visualisations are also used by readers for pleasure, meandering and entertainment; not just about quickly taking in information. Her generous and elegant designs are used for experimentation with novel shapes and forms. They require deep immersion.

An example of Accurat Studio's work for La Lettura magazine. Lupi is the creative director there.

An example of Accurat Studio's work for La Lettura magazine. Lupi is the creative director there.

I took her essay as a basis for how to proceed with my design, as well as being inspired by the intimate and hand-made nature of the Dear Data project.

Data capture and selection

Posavec and Lupi appeared as guests on the FiveThirtyEight podcast “What’s the Point”, and set out a challenge for listeners to capture data about their podcast listening habits over a seven day period. Then they had to visualise the data in whatever way, inscribe it on a postcard and mail it to the show. I decided to take part in this as well, and captured data from March 14 until March 20th. I used the Reporter app to capture information about the podcast as I was listening to it. This data was then extracted as a CSV file. I sorted the data and viewed it on my screen.  I did not conduct any analysis on the data.  I simply used the variables captured as a basis to start drawing.

Design Process:

I started off by sketching out ideas, and used Lupi as inspiration for using this style of visualisation as a way to experiment and play. No bar or line charts! I used time as my main axis (Monday through to Sunday), with each day split on AM and PM. I wished to used organic shapes, so began to play with different forms using ideas of “pods” or “waves”.

Once I decided on a form I would use, I used the spreadsheet to capture each podcast and the data that sat around that listening moment. I was tired, so I found this type of “deep work” quite hard - I had to concentrate on what podcast I was working on, and move between the screen where my data sat and the page. This took me an evening, but the process was very enjoyable.

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The next stage was to create the legend. Normally the legends are created by the package I am working with, and often are only two to four variables. In this case I visualised nine variables - a lot of work, but once I began it took about one hour. For a process that I normally don’t have to think about, this was interesting.

As I progresses, I posted images to Instagram, and received a nice comment from Lupi herself, which was a little thrilling! (yes, I am a tragic fan-girl!)

Opportunities and Challenges:

The opportunities for using a tool like this are immense. I got a deep sense of satisfaction completing it - much more than the work I do on a day to day level - and I enjoy my job! It’s not drudgery for me, but this was a different level of satisfaction. It was nice to experiment and layer lots of information. Normally I think about extraction in my daily task; what is redundant, what can be removed, what is unnecessary. There was something quite decadent about including everything. I hope that people have an explore and see what they can discover about each podcast.

(this post was originally submitted as a blog post for an exercise in experimenting with different visualisation tools for a subject Data Visualisation and Narratives, part of the Master of Data Science and Innovation at University Technology Sydney